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Sens. Urge OPM to Expedite Back Pay for Federal Workers

January 28, 2019, 12:11 PM HST (Updated January 28, 2019, 12:11 PM)
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In a bipartisan letter to Margaret M. Weichert, Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska.) and several of their colleagues wrote to the Administration urging OPM to provide back pay for federal workers as soon as possible following the conclusion of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

“More than 800,000 federal workers have gone without pay because the government shutdown locked them out of their jobs or required them to work without pay,” the Senators wrote. “These workers need to know now when they will finally receive their missed paychecks. This government shutdown made it clearer than ever just how dedicated civil servants are to their jobs, and how vital those jobs are to the nation. We ask that you publicize when exactly these civil servants can expect to receive their back pay, and we hope it will arrive very soon.”

The letter follows the enactment of S.24, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, which was signed into law on Jan. 16, 2019, and ensures all federal workers who were furloughed or required to work during the government shutdown will receive back pay. The law also directs that the federal government provide back pay “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” In accordance with the new policy, OPM issued guidance that reaffirmed this requirement in the law.

Joining Sens Hirono, Van Hollen, and Murkowski on the letter are U.S. Sens Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Angus King (I-Maine).

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Last week, Sens. Hirono, Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and 21 of their colleagues introduced legislation to secure back pay for the federal contractor employees impacted by the government shutdown. The bill—the Fair Compensation for Low-Wage Contractor Employees Act—would provide back pay up to $600 per paycheck for federal contractor employees who were furloughed or had their hours reduced due to the government shutdown. The bill aims to help low-wage federal contractor employees, including janitorial, food and security services workers.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Acting Director Weichert:

Now that the longest ever government shutdown is finally over, we are writing to urge you to provide back pay for federal workers as soon as possible. More than 800,000 federal workers have gone without pay because the government shutdown locked them out of their jobs or required them to work without pay. These workers need to know now when they will finally receive their missed paychecks.

On Friday, January 25th, as President Trump finally announced that he would end this government shutdown, many federal workers missed their second full paycheck. These federal workers have seen bills pile up during the government shutdown, and many of them are currently paying high interest on credit cards or even payday loans to afford basic needs. We have heard from civil servants who will not be able to make their February rent or mortgage payment without their back pay.

We supported the recently enacted Government Employee Fair Treatment Act, which ensured that all federal workers would receive back pay. That law mandates that the federal government shall provide back pay, “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.” We are pleased to see your recent OPM guidance reaffirming this requirement in the law. And we note that when President Trump announced he would agree to reopen the government, he said, “I will make sure that all employees receive their back pay very quickly, or as soon as possible. It will happen fast.”

This government shutdown made it clearer than ever just how dedicated civil servants are to their jobs, and how vital those jobs are to the nation. We ask that you publicize when exactly these civil servants can expect to receive their back pay, and we hope it will arrive very soon.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your response.

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